Most Americans are convinced that Obamacare will mean higher taxes. They are undoubtedly right. Over the weekend, as we noted here, both Tim Geithner and Larry Summers opened the door to broad-based tax increases. But in his press briefing yesterday, Robert Gibbs slammed the door shut, as hard as he could:
QUESTION: Could I make that even a little more precise? The president, as you well know, has — not just middle class — but he’s been very precise about it. No family…
GIBBS: Let me be precise. The president’s clear commitment is not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year.
QUESTION: Any implication anybody drew from Geithner and Summers yesterday to the contrary is flatly wrong?
GIBBS: I think — I think the president’s been clear. I think you heard him reiterate it not — not that long ago, right outside this room in the Rose Garden.
QUESTION: But you can understand why people took what they said yesterday as Geithner and Summers trying to open the door a little bit.
GIBBS: Well, I hope you will — I hope you will take my reiteration of his clear commitment as an update.
QUESTION: So they did not — the door is closed. They did not open the door at all.
GIBBS: I am — I am reiterating the president’s clear commitment in the clearest terms possible that he’s not raising taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year.
Yet, as Byron York wrote this morning, Obamacare will make tax increases inevitable, and most people know it:
“After all this discussion about health care and cap and trade and loss of jobs and the budget and the stimulus, this group [middle class voters] is suddenly beginning to feel particularly vulnerable to tax increases,” says one Republican pollster. “They don’t see how things are going to work out for them in a positive way, and they worry that instead of being in a position to bounce back from the present economic environment, in fact more money may be taken away from them.”
Their concerns are entirely rational. Economists left and right have long argued that there is no way Obama can pay for a national health care makeover and a host of other expensive initiatives without breaking his campaign pledge not to raise taxes for anyone making less than $250,000. The wealthy are already paying a grossly disproportionate percentage of federal income taxes, and increasing taxes on them won’t raise enough money to meet Obama’s needs.
So what’s going on here? I think the Democrats know (as both Geithner and Summers essentially admitted) that broad-based tax increases will be necessary if their legislative agenda passes. Right now, though, that agenda is teetering on the brink of disaster. Cap-and-tax may be dead and Obamacare is looking tenuous at best. If the administration were to admit that these programs mean higher taxes on more or less everyone, they would have no chance of passage.
So Obama and his minions are doing what they think they have to do: they are misleading the public about the fiscal consequences of their legislative agenda, knowing that if they are successful, there will be a day of reckoning in the not-too-distant future. At the moment, their disarray is such that they are willing to take their chances with an electorate that will surely be enraged if Obama violates his iron-clad pledge not to raise the taxes of those who earn less than $250,000 a year.
Maybe they’ve forgotten what happened to the first President Bush; maybe they think their friends in the media will somehow soften the blow with voters; maybe they just don’t think they have any choice. One way or another, this surely is not the situation Obama and his advisers thought they would be in a mere seven months into his term in office.